Your business’s physical location is very important to your website’s ranking in search results. How important? So important that earlier this year, our friends at Moz published a casual study and found that Google now looks first at proximity when deciding what results to present on search pages. All other ranking signals are still important, but your business’s distance from the person searching is the first thing they look at when deciding where to place your business in search results.
They almost always get this information from Google My Business (GMB) listings, which I wrote about recently. This tells us two things:
- you need to have a GMB listing, and
- you need to have your street address listed to gain more visibility.
Why does Google use your location?
When you have a plumbing problem, and you need a new plumber, what do you type into your search bar? Probably “plumber” or “plumber near me” or “plumber [town name]”. To deliver the correct response, Google looks at many things, but one of the first is where you (the searcher) are currently located. Once they determine that, they then look at GMB listings to connect you with local plumber that fits the search query.
If you live in a rural area, Google may just look for a town or region for a plumber. But if you live in a city or a densely-populated area, Google looks at… street addresses, because that’s the best indicator of where a business is located (right?).
Google does this because if you’re seeking a provider who’ll come to your location, or a place you need to go, the best business is going to be one that’s close to you right? Google knows this and acts on it to provide you with the best results.
How do we know Google does this?
Take a look at the results of Moz’s tests. A group of staff searched for different things but did so from their homes; the results should have been similar, but they weren’t. The results were different due to where they were physically located when they searched. So that proves that the more specific the address listed for a business, the more likely they are to come up in search results made in their local area.
Based on these tests, we can say with some certainty that Google looks at proximity as the number one ranking signal for local business searches.
How can small businesses use this info?
By structuring your online presence wisely.
- Make sure your GMB listing includes your street address. If Google is going by this more than anything else, make sure your listing has what they want.
- Look at your GMB listing frequently and update it as necessary. Have different hours over a holiday? List them. Changed your phone number, or the area you’ll serve? Change it in your listing.
- Ask your satisfied clients for Google reviews. Yelp and Facebook are nice, but if your GMB listing is the first thing that searchers see, have those reviews there and easy to read. And yes, Google does look at them when deciding search rankings.
- List your address on your website in exactly, exactly, the same way as on GMB listing. Don’t make Google wonder if your listing and site are the same. Tell them, and show your visitors.
- List the geographic areas you serve** on your website. This will tell Google that you are an expert for those areas.
- Ask local businesses (pet food stores, veterinary practices, etc.) and directories to link to your website. This is another thing Google looks at to see if you’re experienced in your local area.
- I’ve seen several businesses list their location IN their GMB listing. So instead of Bob’s Pet Sitting, he would be Bob’s Pet Sitting of Belmar NJ. While I don’t know that Google uses this as a ranking signal, it would definitely help you stand out if no one else in your area does it.
**I’ve been asked if zip codes are helpful to add to a website. I don’t think so, but they don’t hurt. Here’s why: because Google knows where you are, and your business come up in results based on the location as listed in GMB and on your website, I don’t know that zip codes listed on a site are an indicator of location more than listing town names. While they won’t hurt, I think that listing town names are better than zip codes to attract attention.
Because Google looks at very specific things to decide search rankings, we as small business owners have to work within their constraints. And if they’re now looking at location first, then we need to do all we can to highlight our location on our GMB and our websites. Keeping current with Google is not always easy, but once you know what they think is important, it shouldn’t be hard to work with them and highlight the information they want.